On this Christmas Eve, I wanted to share what Citizen Diplomacy means to me.
Growing up in Ireland, my favourite part of the holidays was Christmas Eve, when the youngest person in the house would get to light the Christmas candle and put it in the window to light the way for Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.
Lighting the candle was my sign that Christmas had begun, and in a country where it gets dark at 3 in the afternoon in December, there was something magical about looking out the window to see candles twinkling in all my neighbours' houses.
There are many stories about the origin of this tradition. Some say it started during the Penal Laws, when Catholicism was forbidden, as a sign to priests that they were welcome in this home. In later years, after the Famine and mass emigration, we lit candles in remembrance of those who had left and to welcome returning migrants back home. And today, with a prime minister who is the son of an Indian immigrant, we light Christmas candles for all visitors to Ireland, for the emigrants and the immigrants, who have made Ireland what it is today.
Christmas candles are beacons of hope. They are a sign of welcome for anyone, friend or stranger, who might be passing on Christmas Eve. They say there is room at this inn.
And that is what Citizen Diplomacy means to me.
Each year, Citizen Diplomats - like you - welcome thousands of visitors to Philadelphia. You provide them with food, shelter and hospitality. You open your homes and your hearts, and you provide spaces for dialogue and understanding that make the world a better place.
Your generosity of spirit is a beacon of hope and, as an immigrant to the United States, I am personally grateful for your commitment to keeping Philadelphia an open and welcoming city for strangers like me.
Citizen Diplomats are Christmas candles.
On the cusp of a new decade here is my wish for you:
May peace and plenty be first through your door this New Year.
And may your home always be too small to hold all your friends
- and all our international visitors.
Thank you for all you do for Citizen Diplomacy. Happy Holidays and see you in the New Year!